Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Grammarian, XIV

Here's another grammatical point for all of you who like to sing Christmas carols (and who wouldn't?). In particular, this carol:

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Now, class, who can tell me why it says gentlemen here? Is this sexist? Is it discriminating against women?

The answer, of course, is no. The gentlemen, boys and girls, are the shepherds. This carol is based on the angel's announcement to them in Bethlehem when Christ was born. It has the angel calling them gentlemen.

Here, then, is the grammatical point to be made: they are not being addressed as "merry gentlemen" here, but merely as "gentlemen." The word "merry" goes with "God rest ye," an old English way of saying, fear not! That's what "God rest ye merry" means.

The "ye" is not King James English, but old English; otherwise it would be poor grammar, since "ye" in KJV English is nominative plural, but in old English is used in the accusative case.

Hence, there should be a comma in the opening line, thus:

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen; let nothing you dismay . . ."

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Grammarian, XIII

Since the time approaches when many preachers will be turning their attention to the Lucan account of the angel message to the shepherds, it seems an appropriate time to consider it carefully from a grammatical point of view. There are two possible renderings, according to the data given by the ancient manuscripts.

The earlier manuscripts, of which there are fewer (on which, e.g., the RSV is based), which would render the English thus:

Peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased.

But the received text, and the great majority of mss (the basis for the KJV) gives the following:

Peace on earth, good will toward men.

The difference has to do with the word given by the earlier texts as "eudokias" (goodwill or well-pleasing-ness) but which the received text renders without the sigma (Greek s): "eudokia." The former reading has it modifying "men" while the latter has it in the nominative, as the subject: Good will toward . . ."

The trouble with the former reading is that there are quite a few folks who misunderstand it to be a qualifier, saying in effect that there are only some among all men--very few, actually--with whom God is pleased. Some translations have even gone so far as to render it "Peace on earth among those who have His favor" or "Peace on earth among men of goodwill."

Incorrect, boys and girls.

The proper way to interpret the "eudokias" readings is essentially the same as one would interpret the "eudokia" readings, thus:

Peace on earth among men, with whom (i.e., all of whom) now have His good pleasure.

Or, to go back to the RSV rendering, to make careful emphases in reading, thus:

Peace on earth among men! with whom He is pleased.

Take a look at the context: it says peace on earth, i.e., there is now peace on earth, because the Savior of the earth has arrived. What would be the point of saying this first, only to qualify it by saying, "oh, by the way, that peace is only intended for those who please God"?

Secondly, the Greek construction puts the word order this way:

Glory in the highest to God, and upon earth peace among men pleasing.

That makes the "and" epexegetical, i.e., to be interpreted as "namely," or "that is to say." Glory to God is found not in the nature of men, but in the Savior of men, i.e., of all the human race.

Third, the Greek adjective eudokias, while modifying "men" is nevertheless meant imply the pronoun "His" making the subject of goodwill God, and not men, which is in fact that way the RSV translaters rightly put it: "with whom He is pleased." "Men of goodwill" is right out.

Finally, the fact that the word comes last in this proclamation tends to puts the greatest emphasis on it, as the capstone of the entire proclamation, viz.,

"The greatest glory given to God is accomplished in His incarnation, which brings peace to earth, dear shepherds, because the warfare between heaven and earth is now ended, the case of God against the human race is set aside, and the heavenly demeanor of God toward the human race is now revealed! Behold, He loves the world! And let the hearts of all men, who so furiously rage against the Lord and against His anointed, instead take note of this astounding truth: their sins are put away, atoned, and covered. Their flesh has been joined to God; heaven and earth are slammed together; humanity is taken up into divinity; He is well pleased."

In short, if you're going to go with the RSV, be sure you don't misunderstand it. Or, to make things simple, just go with the KJV, which, while containing the translation of a slightly different word, actually comes out with the right interpretetion no matter which word you use:

Peace on earth, good will toward men.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Naming Your Baby

OK, so the legal system of Italy is clearly a bit unfamiliar to us Americans. A case in point is the most recent court order not only denying a family the right to name their child "Friday" but requiring that he be renamed "Gregory" (to read the article, click here).

But I was struck by the Reuters piece which explained, that "many priests insist that first names be of Christian origin."

As I said, such a court ruling would be unthinkable in America--at least as we know it now; but who knows how far political correctness will go? I could well imagine American courts a hundred years from now disallowing the names of saints, because, say, the court might think government would thereby be giving credence to the Christian religion, blah blah blah, and therefore "we insist that your child be renamed Mahmoud."

But I digress.

Part of me is actually a bit pleased with those Italian priests. And I think American clergymen would serve our people well by at least suggesting proper Christian names for their children.

The rage these days is to name your child something that sounds good; that has become the chief, and in some cases, only, criterion. So we have names like "Atari," "Kreeshawn," "Charrday," and other ghetto names, as some are wont to call them. Actually we shouldn't really be calling them ghetto names, because the truth is that if you'd like to do a search for a name like this for your little darling, you could just check out the roster of your favorite National Football League team. Those kids certainly don't live in the ghetto.

Whatever happened to names like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah, Samuel, Paul, David, or Lois? Or even some post-biblical saint, like Gregory? The Italian court's choice wasn't bad, even if we'd say they went too far in requiring it. Or what about Leo, Anne, Lucy, Nicholas, or Martin? There's a reason, I say, that these kinds of names bespeak strength. They are the names of men and women of faith and character, something we will all do well to emulate.

And here's another old suggestion nobody thinks about any more: consider the date of your child's birth for a good suggestion as to his name. Expecting a child on December 26th? How about Stephen, or Stephanie? July 22nd? Mary, Magdalena, or Mario. April 21? Anselm.

Well, OK, that last one might also be considered taking things a bit far, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

St. Lucia

On December the 13th we remember the early fourth-century saint who in her persecution was raped, lost her eyes, and was put to death with the sword, all for her steadfast faith. According to the legend, she requested that her eyes be put out, to take from her assailants the benefit of lusting after her poor body. She is remembered as a virgin martyr, even doubly a virgin, since the violation of her body was due to the constancy of her faith.

Her day is associated with the Festival of Lights, and is celebrated in the darkness of winter, so near to the shortest day, because the light of Christ by which she lived was an inner light, not seen with the eyes.

Her faith was akin to that of the Blessed Mother of God, who upon hearing the annunciation, not only believed that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a Child, but that this Child would be called the Son of God. In the tiny space of the Virgin's womb was contained the Maker of heaven and earth.

Eye cannot see what faith believes, and what faith believes is the truth. The blessedness of St. Lucia is that of every Christian heart.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

St. Nicholas, December 6

Devotion to St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, arose so quickly and universally in Christendom, that we are bound to see it as testimony to the man's indomitable courage and faith. Even in the fourth century itself, after his death in a.d. 343, veneration of this saint became common in the East and the West.

The fact that everyone in the world knows about St. Nick, at least in the legendary form in which his memory comes to most people, is testimony to the great character of this saint.

There are many more legends and stories surrounding him than simply the most common, that he gave gifts (dowries, actually) to children (three maidens who might otherwise have been forced into prostitution). To mention only some, legend has it that as an infant he fasted from his mother's milk on Wednesdays and Fridays. He is reputed even to have miraculously reconstituted and brought back to life three young men who had been butchered and thrown in a brine vat. Another story has him appearing posthumously to a kidnapped boy and returning him to his parents.

One thing that can be said about all these stories, whether or not they are true, is that they testify to the universal acclaim accorded this saint. He is said to have used his inheritance to feed the sick, the poor, and the needy. And above all, he is known to have been a man of great faith.

He was imprisoned during the reign of Diocletian, in a prison where, we are told, there were so many bishops, priests, and deacons, that there was no room for the real criminals.

He is known to have been present at the first ecumenical council, of Nicaea, in a.d. 325, where he contended mightily against Arius for the full divinity of Jesus Christ. The Creed we say today is to some degree the result of the labors of St. Nicholas.

It is wonderful, I think, that St. Nicholas is revered by all, even if most today have no understanding of who this man really was, or whether, for that matter, they know that he really existed.

I'm still moved by the famous 1897 New York Sun editorial reply to that little girl who wanted to know the truth about Santa Claus, but I might have been inclined to add this: "And Virginia, here's another thing: there was also a St. Nicholas, a very real and mighty fourth century Christian Holy Man whose faith and life you will do well to imitate and remember, especially on the sixth of December!"